The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) claims the motto of freedom, opportunity, and enterprise. But, by “freedom,” apparently, some at AEI now mean that government should be free to forcibly take your wealth and give it to others, at least within certain (undefined and undefinable) limits.

In a recent article for AEI, James Pethokoukis explicitly endorses the welfare state (which he calls a “safety net”). He also quotes Arthur Brooks, president of AEI, who claims, “The government social safety net for the truly indigent is one of the greatest achievements of our society.” Pethokoukis seeks to justify the welfare state by asserting that it helps keep some people out of poverty—as though that aim could justify government imposing measures of involuntary servitude on some for the benefit of others, and as though a fully free, rights-respecting society would not eradicate poverty by enabling everyone to produce and trade in accordance with his own self-interested judgment and to charitably support anyone he wishes.

In a follow-up for AEI, Benjamin Zycher attempts to offer a different moral justification for the welfare state by rejecting the view that “a safety net is coercive in terms of its funding source—taxation—and thus inconsistent with individual freedom.” But his rejection of that view makes no sense. If you don’t send the government the money it requires you to hand over to the welfare state, and the government finds out about it, government agents will seize your wealth and property, possibly lock you in a metal cage, and, if you physically resist, possibly kill you. How is that not coercive? Zycher rationalizes: . . .

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